making hay

We’re stuck in a time warp and the World is moving on around us. A covenant, agreed when Lord Zetland handed over the land to the people of Redcar, appears now, to be a little outdated. A set of rules, forbidding any structure above 4′ high, no lighting of fires …

brimming with broccoli

We’ve been at the allotment again on Saturday – clearing the last of the weeds left from 3yrs of neglect. We didn’t do this clearing the easy way – with a strimmer; oh no, muggins here had to do it by hand with a pair of shears and secateurs and …

cold frames – a poor man’s greenhouse

A quick look at the diary and we can see that we’re 18 weeks in, in our journey on Plot 36. It doesn’t seem so long to be honest, given the volume of the weeds removed and compost and manure brought onto site. I mustn’t forget the pallets either. The site resembles …

extreme composting – turning up the heat

Those of you interested in the concept of no-dig gardening, will have no doubt read, or at least heard of the work of Charles Dowding. Charles has written a number of extremely informative books on the subject and has a website which is an absolute mine of information, for those interested …

Recent Articles:

Victorious Veg and the NVS

November 26, 2012 Tuckers Seeds Comments Off

Hi, my name is Chrissie Gregory from Tuckers Seeds in Ashburton.  

I’m in charge of producing our garden seed catalogue, ordering garden seeds and looking after many other aspects of the mail order garden seeds business.



When I’m not at work, there’s nothing I like more than going on long walks with my dog; luckily living in Ashburton with Dartmoor on the doorstep and the coast only half an hour away, we’ve got plenty of scenic walks to choose from.



 Victorious Veg and the NVS

Whether you have an allotment, garden or simply a window box, a day out at your local vegetable and flower show is a must for any gardener.

As a child it will usually mean parents and grandparents helping to create miniature gardens, hours spent trying to cobble together vegetables into one design or another, the colouring in of posters and kitchens filled with clouds of flour for the baking competitions.

Others will harvest their lovingly tended vegetables and flowers on the morning of the show, scrubbing and trimming, trying to find perfectly matching sets and blooms, this is all part and parcel of the preparations for a day exhibiting at a garden show.  

The prize money is usually modest but if you produce a winning entry there is usually a prize card, but more importantly a shared family experience and a fun day out with memories made to be treasured.

An afternoon out at a vegetable show is unlikely to break the bank and will undoubtedly be an education, whether you are a novice or a seasoned vegetable grower.

Talking with other gardeners, trying (and sometimes failing) yourself is absolutely the best way to learn the skills required to reap good things from what you sow; add in the element of some friendly (hopefully) competition and you are likely to see varieties at their very best as well as gaining tips from expert judges and other competitors.

NVS Stand - Harrogate 2012

NVS Stand – Harrogate 2012


Dan Harvey FNVS a well known exhibitor in Devon has won approximately 3000 1st prizes. Dan is also a National Vegetable Society judge and lecturer with a wealth of experience, he recommends the following varieties for victorious vegetables on the show bench.


Masterpiece Green Longpod Broad Bean                         

LibertyRunner Bean                                                            

Enorma Runner Bean                                                          

The Prince Dwarf French Bean                                                        

Pablo F1 Beetroot                                                                                               

Stonehead Cabbage                                                                          

Marcello RZ F1 Cabbage                                   

St. Valery Carrot                                                  

Flyaway Carrot                                                                   

Defender Courgette                                                                           

Kelsae Onion Seed                                                                            

Mammoth Improved Onion Seed                                                    

Verta RZ Parsley                                                                

Gladiator F1 Parsnip                                                                           

Countess F1 Parsnip                                                          

HurstGreenshaft Pea                                                           

Show Perfection Pea                                                                          

Shirley F1 Tomato                                                               

Mecano RZ F1 Tomato                                        

Sturon Onion Sets                                                              

Centurion F1 Onion Sets                                                  

Red Sun Shallot Sets                                                                         

Golden Gourmet Shallot Sets                                            

CasablancaFirst Early White Potato                                              

Winston First Early White Potato                                    

Nadine Second Early White Potato                 

NVS Sherine Second Early White Potato                                       

Blue Belle Second Early Coloured Potato                                      

Kestrel Second Early Coloured Potato                                           

NVS Amour Early Maincrop Coloured Potato                              

Maxine Maincrop  Coloured Potato


All of the above are available to buy from Edwin Tucker & Sons Ltd; either from their shops, at Ashburton and Crediton; or online in the Victorious Veg section  or of course by phone on 01364 652233 or mail order.




Many vegetable growers would benefit from joining the National Vegetable Society, to gain access to further expert advice and local meetings; their magazine Simply Vegetables is quarterly and is packed with useful and interesting advice on growing and showing.

For further information visit their website


The NVS show book

The NVS show book


A Beginners Guide To Growing And Showing Vegetables By Derek Brooks
Edited by David Allison, National Vegetable Society

Derek Brooks regularly writes for the National Vegetable Societies magazine ‘Simply Vegetables’ and often contributes in the Garden News.  “Derek is without question a very experienced vegetable grower who has competed and won prizes at many shows.”

“Getting Started On The Show Bench, will undoubtedly assist the novice grower as well as those that have already staged a few vegetables to get even better at their hobby.”

End of the maiden season: what we have learned

November 24, 2012 Lee Burns 2 Comments

When Roy and Tanya were nice enough to ask whether I’d like to write something for their great new blog, I thought that rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the latest goings on down on our plot (as riveting as that would no doubt be) I would write a bit about some particular veg/horticulture related topic or other. So: this is the first of those!

This has been our first full season on the plot, as we took over a half plot of Nunsmoor Allotments in the west end of Newcastle halfway through last year. Before then, a few pots of herbs and the odd tub of courgettes notwithstanding, we hadn’t ever really done any gardening. So, as the last of the manure is spread and most of the patch goes undercover for the winter, what have we learned?

Digging takes a while!

View from the gate, day 1

View from the gate, day 500-ish

I don’t know how long we thought it would take to get the patch knocked in to shape, but after the first couple of days of digging we realised what we’d let ourselves in for. Outrageous quantities of various weeds we didn’t even recognise (but would become familiar with over the next few months) met our every shovel, roots like those of trees were extricated, and we ended up with a heap of detritus that just grew and grew.

Live to dig; note the difference between each side of the wire!

But: slowly we cleared patches to the extent that they could be planted with some tentative plantings of spuds. The feeling of turning total weedageddon into plantable soil was amazing, and I’m jealous of anyone who takes over a weedy nightmare of a plot, as it’s coming their way.

You learn quick

A view of our plot in July of this year

Now, as I’ve said, we were basically total beginners when we took over the plot. Looking back at all the daft mistakes we made when we started, with really basic stuff like planting seeds, understanding PH levels and composting, it feels good to see your proficiency increase, rewarded with some decent crops. And yet we’re aware we’ve barely scratched the surface of what there is to know. This whole no-dig approach to horticulture sounds good for a start…

Plot Demographics

One of the fun things about getting onto an allotments is that you get to walk past loads of other plots on the way to yours, and get the chance to have a good neb at what people are doing, what people are growing and how they’re growing it. But just as interesting are the different types of people that have allotments. At the risk of being extremely reductive, I’d say there are broadly three categories of folk on our plots:

  1. Studenty/ Fenham hippie types: Round our way there is a bit of a boho population. Sporting interesting facial hair (the lads) and giving off a hearty waft of patchouli oil (the lasses, mostly), their plots are distinguished by a fairly haphazard approach to planting, makeshift murals painted on sheds and jealousy-inducing accoutrements such as particularly well placed hammocks.
  2. Guardian reading (presumably) young families: Basically, the grown-up version of the studenty type. They are identifiable by the fact of having turned their allotment into a proper garden, all the better to teach their soon-to-arrive offspring about the value of green spaces and what a carrot looks like. They are often to be seen reclining on sunbeds on their plot. They’ve been at this a while you see, and they understand the concept of work/life balance.
  3. Old-school Geordies: No mistaking these characters or their plots. Perfect rows of veg that grow brilliantly, even in rubbish conditions. How do they do it? You can ask, and they’ll look at you as if to say (gruffly) “piece of piss man, ye just dae it!”. These are they guys to learn from though. Some serious plot-time under their collective belt.

The great thing is how a genuinely mixed bag of folk all seem to rub along well, all with a reason to say hello to eachother. It’s a fine antidote to the loss of “community” we’re always hearing so much about.

The Kindness of Strangers

Related to this last point; something that really made us feel welcome on the plots was the plants and advice we were given from various allotment neighbours. Pea plants, seed potatoes and crops of various things were thrust at us, and accepted gratefully. A lot of advice was received from certain quarters, some of it confusing and contradictory. We’ve more or less learned to smile and nod, and carry on with what we were planning to do anyway. There’s nothing like learning from experience, but even more so when it’s your own!

Having an Allotment is Flipping Class

Harvest Time

So anyway, enough waffle from me for now. But, on the off chance that you’re reading this and you’re considering getting an allotment, or turning some of garden over to veg growing: do it! The sense of achievement when you grow some really decent veg and, even better, get to cook it, is magic. Not to mention getting to spend time outside, great exercise (what idiot wants to go to a gym when you can be hoeing your onions instead?!), meeting new people and feeling a particular attachment to the passing of the seasons- brilliant, all of it. We’re looking at the possibility of buying a house soon. One of, if not the major consideration when looking at areas it might be is: how close is it to the allotment? Which just about says it all!

If you’re interested, you can have a look at what we’ve been up to over the last year at our own blog, Patchy Growth. Follow me on Twitter: @leejamesburns


a rake, a fork, a sifter and a lifter

November 24, 2012 Gotalottie, Tools Comments Off

Three weeks ago, a parcel arrived – a cardboard box printed with the words ’Golden Gark’.

On opening, all was revealed: a couple of pieces of plastic, a small bag of bolts, washers, etc and a leaflet, printed in several languages which described the assembly instructions..  and a long sleek and rather sexy red handle.

Our Gark had arrived. The instructions were tossed to one side as I hurriedly assembled the components; I could read that later – if there were any bits left over.

What’s a Gark?

To describe the Gark in its simplest form, its a rake, for gathering fallen leaves, twigs, grass clippings etc. In one deft flick of the wrist however, the rake is immediately transformed into a long multi-tined fork which makes short work of lifting those raked-up leaves or grass clippings. The tines are angled slightly upwards, allowing them to glide over the top of a lawn surface for example. On each side of the head, there are 2 thicker tines which are slightly raised and these allow it to gather up large quantities in one lift.


The close-tined, polycarbonate head of the Gark

The close-tined, polycarbonate head of the Gark


The Gark can also be described as a sifter for sifting through soil or compost and removing small stones, debris and even for lifting potatoes, there are photos on their website of it even lifting bricks – never grown them though..


The Gark can lift and sift a lot of material

The Gark can lift and sift a lot of material


I was interested in its ability to lift grass clippings and even seaweed off the beach and it would clearly make light work of this task. My immediate concern was the head, the business end and a vision that this might break against some obstacle; our previous rake – a stainless steel ’62 registered model – had lasted exactly 6 weeks while clearing our allotment. I’m a bit heavy-handed with tools, a lot of bish, bash and bosh.

The literature shows the head to be made, not from plastic, but from polycarbonate, that’s the stuff that motorbike helmets are made of. There’s a photo of the tines being bent back by 180 degrees without snapping, but like I said - I’m a bit tough on tools and not easily swayed by sales blurb.

I had some real work for it, not just lifting a few leaves on a lawn. The work that I had in mind, included some serious raking of beds on an allotment and some horse manure to lift and move about.

The first stop was at the horse riding stables, we’ve got access to the fields and the chance to collect horse manure in the ‘raw’. That requires it to be lifted from the grass – not such a simple task for a spade or a fork. The Gark was, it is fair to say, in its element here; the girls at the stables were impressed too, it’s not a fun part of their daily tasks.


The tines glide easily under even quite heavy material

The tines glide easily under even quite heavy material


On arriving back at the allotment, the Gark and I had more manure to move, this has been piled in large heaps in order to heat up rapidly and needs regularly turning. It would be unfair on the Gark to expect it to perform well here, the manure becomes quite compacted after just a week and the head is possibly too flexible to penetrate the pile. I was however, very surprised; after just a little loosening with a normal garden fork, it was quite simple to lift quite large amounts with the Gark. As the size of the heap reduced, it made easy work of the loose material and it performed well as a rake and shovel, where I would have struggled with a traditional fork or spade. I’ll be honest, I was hard on the Gark at this point and it performed very well, together we have moved a lot of manure already.


A tough task? No

A tough task? No


The Gark responds very well as a rake, even spreading quite large amounts of compost or loose soil. By increasing the downward pressure and the rake angle, significant volumes of material can be moved at ease, a traditional rake would simply not be up to the job.

I wouldn’t want to keep the Gark at the allotment all of the time, it’s too useful in the garden also. It would be superb at scarifying a lawn and removing moss, thatch, etc or for clearing light weeds from a gravel drive or path.

So, the verdict is a resounding ‘Yes’. It’s a rake, a fork, a sifter and a lifter and it also has a long, sleek and rather sexy, red handle.

Digging up the Strawberry patch

November 23, 2012 Stuart Sidebotham 1 Comment

Well I popped down to the plot on Thursday just to check out my onions; I ended up staying for four hours. I love it when that happens (my wife isn’t so fond).

So I decided to dig up the strawberry patch, I didn’t save any runners, as I didn’t know what variety they were. The books say you should only have your strawberry plants for three years and as I had only taken the plot over this year, I had no idea how long they have been there. I will be buying bare roots for the next growing year.

Strawberry flower but no bees to pollinate

The strawberry patch when it was dug over

The person who had the plot before me also laid down some weed membrane, I don’t like this stuff as I don’t believe it does the soil any favours and weeds were growing through it anyway! So I pulled up all the weed membrane and dug over the patch. The membrane had also been put down under the fruit bushes, I put a hand full of chicken poo pellets down for them but I thought that the goodness wouldn’t get through the membrane so I decided that it had to come up. I mixed the chicken pellets with the soil, so hopefully this will give them an extra boost for next Spring.

As I was giving the fruit bushes some chicken pellets I thought I’d also give some to the Rhubarb.

Rhubarb crowns with a good sprinkle of chicken pellets

I can’t believe that the Rhubarb will grow into such a giant compared to what it is now! If I had taken the plot over this week, I could have quite easily dug up the crowns without knowing. What a crime that would have been! 

I am now making plans for next year. I have ordered my seeds already and they should be arriving in the next couple of months. I ordered them through the allotment assocation, so I don’t know when or how they will be delivered.

 I shall be going up to the plot this week, if the weather permits, just to tidy up the place, get the paths sorted and make a compost area. I will also need to think about constructing a raised bed for the new strawberries that will be going in next year.

 As I am quite new to this, I have never grown strawberries before, what variety would anyone suggest?

I know you can get early and late varieties but which are best?

Also how long does a fruit bush last, 5 years or so?

I don’t suppose there is a way of finding out the age of a fruit bush?

So many questions…

Thank you for reading and I will see you all very soon.

Please follow me on Twitter @adventuresallot






New Vegetables from D.T.Brown

November 23, 2012 Seeds 9 Comments

Hello, my name is Tim Jeffries, General Manager at D.T.Brown.

Our company began more than a century ago supplying market gardeners locally in the north west before going on to sell vegetable seeds by mail order to allotmenteers and home gardeners throughout the country.  Its founder David Brown based his business on supplying top-quality seeds at value-for-money prices. 

Our ethos is still the same today, and D. T. Brown is often mentioned by the gardening press as representing great value for money. 

It’s a reputation of which I am proud.

Our trial ground serves two main purposes – to ensure our seed stocks are true to type and as we describe them to our customers, and to test new varieties of vegetable seeds from around the world to see if they offer significant improvements on or differences from varieties we already offer. 

Tim Jeffries picks runner beans

Tim Jeffries picks runner beans


Seed breeding is a worldwide business, and we believe it is important that we are happy that all new varieties perform well in British conditions before we add them to our range.  Our small team of experts makes weekly assessments of our trials, noting all favourable and unfavourable characteristics of what we are growing.  Then they have to pass the ultimate test, where we take them home to eat so we can assess their flavour and texture. 

That’s the best part of our jobs!

This year, among our many introductions, are three which are particularly worthy of note. 

Kale Seaweed

Kale Seaweed



Available only from D. T. Brown is Seaweed Kale TZ93339, an intricately leaved variety which resembles Chinese seaweed.  The young leaves are lovely stir-fried or even added to salads.  It is as hardy as other kales and has a long cropping period. 



Squash Butterbush F1

Squash Butterbush F1



Butternut squashes have really caught on recently, and our new variety Butterbush F1 is much more compact growing than most.  Each plant can produce up to five fruits, each weighing up to 1kg, and the plants are suitable for containers and growing bags. 



Carrot Eskimo F1

Carrot Eskimo F1



Carrot Eskimo F1 is just as hardy as its name suggests.  It’s a late maincrop, Nantes-type and can be lifted through autumn and into winter.  The roots are sweet and well coloured, and Eskimo F1 has the bonus of a high tolerance of cavity spot.




    You can view D.T.Brown’s exciting 2013 seed range here




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